Bangkok Loco by Pornchai Hongrattanaporn (Review)

One of those films you have to see for yourself in order to believe that something like it could even exist.
Bangkok Loco

Back when I was a kid, I was convinced that the Airplane movies were the alpha and omega of comedic genius. Heck, I’m 29 and I still feel that way. However, little did I think that the filmmaking style pioneered by the Zucker brothers, in which sight gags and puns replaced such trivial things as character development and plot structure, would ever spread to the country of Thailand.

Perhaps the minds behind Bangkok Loco have never seen an Airplane movie (or Kentucky Fried Movie or Naked Gun for that matter). But that’s certainly the vibe I got with this film, with its endless parade of visual puns, film parodies, double entendres, gags, and a wee touch of good ol’ juvenile sex humor.

Bay (Khridsada Suchosal) is a rather dimwitted young man whose only goal in life is to master the Drums of the Gods, a sacred drumming style that brings peace and harmony, drives the audience nuts, and makes Neil Peart look like one of those wind-up monkey toys. One day, while practicing, he really gets into the groove — so much so that he doesn’t notice that his drumsticks have been replaced by knives and his drumset by a body, which he has reduced to chopped liver.

Drenched in blood and seriously freaked out, Bay runs to the apartment of his friend Don, a young girl with whom he had studied the Drums of the Gods before their master was killed by the master of the Demon Drums style. Hot on his heels is Inspector Black Ear (Niphon Chaisirikul), a beat detective and a bit of a perv who, well, has black ears and eyes, which makes him look something like a panda (he even arrives at the scene of the crime chewing on some bamboo).

At first, Don and her bandmates want to turn in Bay, but Bay, being the innocent schmuck that he is, convinces them to let him stay. And if being a suspected murderer wasn’t bad enough, he’s also got to prepare for a rematch with the master of the Demon Drums in just a few days, and he still has yet to attain the 10th Level of The Drums of the Gods.

Of course, this plot is completely secondary to the real point of the movie, and that is to try and cram as much as possible into the film’s 90-minute runtime and hope it doesn’t explode. Which is why the first 20 minutes contains about 80% of the movie’s plot and character development. The rest is just one gag after another after another after another.

One minute, Bay and the cops are running down the alleys of Bangkok in a scene that directly rips off Ong-Bak. Suddenly, he and Don are traipsing through the countryside in one of the most surreal musical numbers (yes, the film has many musical numbers and dance performances) this side of, well, anything. And let’s not forget Bay’s attempts to attain Level 10 of the Drums of the Gods, which involves a lot of, um, drumstick-stroking. We also get some tranvestite and hermaphrodite jokes as well, just for good measure. (Remember what I said about juvenile sex humor?)

Oh, and I forgot to mention the rival that killed Bay’s master was Ringo Starr. Sorry about that.

Unfortunately, I have the distinct feeling that at least half of the film’s jokes flew completely over my head because I’m not Thai myself. Also, many of the jokes involve onscreen text, which wasn’t translated on the DVD that I purchased. I got snatches of what could’ve been references to political scandals and classic Thai pop culture, but that was about it. However, I’m fairly certain that many of the scenes that left me scratching my head probably had the hometown crowd rolling in the aisles.

Visually, Bangkok Loco is pure overload. Not only do we get all of the styles of the films that are parodied, be it Ong-Bak, Star Wars, or even Requiem for a Dream, but director Pornchai Hongrattanaporn ramps up the visual style to 11, be it the eye-grabbing costumes (which evoke a serious late ’70s/early ’80s feel) or the intense color saturation that tints the Thai countryside an acid trip-esque shade of blue. Not surprisingly, the film’s most infectious element is the music, which ranges from high-energy techno and psych-pop to disco and traditional Thai folk music (there’s even a reference to The Overture).

Bangkok Loco isn’t a great movie, and I certainly can understand a number of people hating it. For every time I chuckled, there were about three times where I went “Huh?,” either because of the language/culture barrier or the sheer nonsensical-ness of it all. However, given the right crowd — say, a Midnight Madness screening at the Toronto International Film Festival — it could be an absolute riot. Simply put, it’s just one of those films you have to see for yourself in order to believe that something like it could even exist (think Fantasy Mission Force, though nowhere near as painful).

Between this and Tears of a Black Tiger (and countless others that I’ve read about but haven’t seen, such as Spicy Beautyqueen in Bangkok, Rock Never Die!, and Dumbass Killer), Thailand seems to be taking the global lead in pushing out films that wreak equal amounts of absolute havoc with genres and viewers’ minds.